When offices shut their doors this spring, many employees were thrown into an unfamiliar situation, working from home for the first time. And while some have returned to their physical office spaces, others will be doing business from our dining room tables for the foreseeable future.
Overall, the shift to home-based work has been successful. In fact, a recent PwC survey found that 83 percent of office workers want to work from home at least one day a week, and more than half of employers anticipate that most of their workers will, even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
And no wonder. On the surface, work flexibility sounds great: Unshackled from 9-to-5 constraints, you’ll have time to wrangle your family, run a load of laundry, and maybe even sneak in a workout, all while getting more done on your own terms. Right? Not always—and especially not now.
If life before COVID-19 was paint-by-numbers, modern schedules are a messy canvas where colors bleed together with plenty of gray. With your manager out of sight—and that pile of unwashed laundry in view—it’s easy to get distracted. For possibly the first time ever, you’re forced to be your own manager.
8 Productivity Pointers
While working from home can take some getting used to, it’s entirely possible to keep yourself accountable and stay productive. Take it from me: I’ve worked at home for 15 years, answering to nobody but my Gmail calendar and my clients. Structuring my time has become such second nature that people even hire me to speak about how to do it well.
Here’s what I tell them.
1. Start your day with momentum.
Productivity builds on itself. Begin by ticking off easy to-dos, such as responding to emails or tying up loose ends on smaller projects. Accomplishing tasks gives you forward momentum and inspires you to keep going.
2. Save heavy lifts for your most productive hours.
At this point, you probably know whether you’re a morning person or a night owl. Don’t apologize for your rhythm; own it. If waking up at 5 a.m. suits your biological clock, embrace it—and speak with your manager about working flexible shifts that maximize your productivity.
3. Book only the time you need.
Not every Zoom meeting or phone call takes a full hour, even though it’s the default setting on most electronic calendars. Experiment with setting up 15- or 30-minute meetings, and watch white space suddenly appear in your day.
4. Block off personal time.
Ruthlessly preserve time in the day for yourself—and book yourself into a “meeting,” if need be, in order to protect it.
5. Be transparent about boundaries.
Tell your colleagues and manager when you’re inaccessible, and hold true to it. Humans are creatures of habit. The more you reinforce patterns (ignoring dinnertime emails; letting the phone roll to voicemail when you’re on PTO), the more people will respect them.
6. Be flexible.
That said, it’s easier for team players to earn respect. Emergencies happen, and you’ll need to bend. Know when to build goodwill by flexing and making yourself available when necessary.
When you’re working remotely, it’s difficult to read facial cues and body language. Set up regular time on video to connect with colleagues and your manager and ensure that everyone’s on the same page, feels heard, and isn’t harboring resentment over scheduling snafus. As life and work mix and people feel pulled in many directions, ongoing transparency is essential.
8. Have meetings—with yourself.
Just as you schedule 1:1s with your boss, do the same with yourself. At the end of each week, analyze what went well (maybe you were great about breaking for lunch each day) and what went off the rails (too many back-to-back Zoom calls, perhaps?). Write down three ways you’ll do things differently next week. Just like exercise, flexibility happens over time—and you’ll need to stretch to get there.